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What is identity theft?

Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information in order to open up a new bank account, make purchases, or apply for government benefits. All of this is completed in your name and without your knowledge or consent. Identity theft can disrupt your finances, credit history, and take a great deal of time, money and effort to resolve. Annually, about one in every 15 Americans are victims of identity theft with their total losses reaching over $15 billion dollars.

How does identity theft occur ?

One of the common ways a criminal obtains your personal information and commits identity theft is via a data breach. A data breach occurs when a company or business' computer network becomes compromied and a criminal gains instant access to your personal information that the business has legally stored.  Other means by which a criminal gets your personal information is by dumpster diving and looking for discarded mail, stealing your mail from your mailbox, committing a scam or fraud to obtain the information from you, or stealing your credit card or social security card (or information).

What are the warning signs of identity theft?

Warning signs include:

  1. Receiving pre-approved credit cards and offers in the mail
  2. Being turned down for government benefits because your SSN is already being used
  3. Notices from the IRS that income taxes have not been paid
  4. Receiving notice of unpaid bills
  5. Receiving bills for purchases you did not make
  6. Bank statements showing withdrawals that were not made
  7. Notification that a business or organization that you have engaged with has been the victim of a data breach

Can I do anything to prevent identity theft?

Steps you can take to protect yourself against identity theft include:

  1. Obtain free copies of your credit report from each of the reporting companies and review them annually
  2. Review your bank statements carefully 
  3. Shred any document that contains your personal or financial information
  4. Challenge any request for your SSN
  5. Update the virus software on your computer and use strong passwords on all your accounts

What should I do if my identity has been stolen?

Report it immediately!

  1. Call any one of the credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian or TransUnion) and have a fraud alert placed on your credit.
  2. Call the fraud department of any banks or companies that have been affected
  3. Freeze your credit information to prevent additional accounts from being opened
  4. Change the login and password info for your online bank accounts
  5. Call the FTC and open an ID theft report.
  6. Keep careful records!

Useful Numbers:

FTC:  877-438-4338
Equifax: 888-548-7878
Experian: 888- 397-3742
TransUnion: 800- 916-8800